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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: Just say no… And get some sleep!

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: Opinions

“Want A’s? Get Z’s.” At least that’s what many colleges are now telling their sleep-deprived students. It’s no new concept that students often pull all-nighters to finish assignments. Nor is it a surprise that our technologically savvy generation has one too many distractions to help keep them up all night should they so desire. But for many colleges these days, this reality is more of a concern than it is a surprise.

If you read the article in the Boston Globe this week titled “Colleges calling sleep a success prerequisite,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. In an effort to get college students to dedicate more time to sleeping and to raise awareness of the negative health side effects of sleep deprivation, more colleges are doing everything from hosting dorm pajama parties to offering sleep seminars. This is all in the effort to counteract what has become as normal a part of college life as frat parties and lofted triples.

These counteractive measures sound a bit like what a Globe article described elementary and middle schools were doing for their own stressed students just last year. At the time, I wasn’t surprised at the stress levels of these budding college students because I was once there myself, but still I was disappointed that the expectations for student’s abilities keep on rising to a somewhat dangerous level. With an ever-competitive job market, student’s stars are expected to soar higher than any others have in the past.

So this got me thinking about how sleep deprived we really are and why. Perhaps the root of our lack of sleep is twofold. First, certainly no one will deny that college students are overloaded with schoolwork these days. Take a look at any college course’s syllabus and you’ll see for yourself. This is the part of the problem that clearly comes without choice. We cannot control what a professor assigns us, so that’s how some people justify those all-nighters. But the other part of the equation is surely our own choices. We mostly choose which classes we take and we choose which clubs we dedicate ourselves to. So essentially, in many ways, we are our own worst enemies, setting the already high bar even higher for ourselves.

In reading this article the other day, I must say the first thing that came to my sleep deprived mind was the saying ‘just say no.’ No, I wasn’t citing the anti-drug and alcohol campaign from years ago, although it has very important points to make. My thoughts were instead aimed at my own sleep deprivation and the roots of it lying in an inability to say no. And I come here humbly to say that although I can recognize and once wrote about the importance of taking time for yourself (Relaxation Education 3/7/08), lately that hasn’t been the case. Somehow, I have the feeling that that’s the same for many of you as midterms slowly invade our lives and our sleep cycles.

A friend of mine recently told me I need to learn how to say no—to work. No, he didn’t mean I should launch a peaceful protest against papers and exams; rather he had extracurriculars in mind. I’m sure there are many of you out there who feel the same desire to do it all. Maybe you want to be involved in every club on campus, maybe you want to take on more hours at work or maybe you want to finish all your homework so you can have plenty of time to spare for your social life. But here’s the wakeup call-you can’t.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the million and one clubs offered here at Brandeis and at other colleges. And it’s hard to say no when there are several clubs calling for your skills or several open leadership positions just calling your name. But at what point are you supposed to just say no? When does one person finally come to realize their limits? If you’re the one calling the shots, who’s to tell you to stop? In the end, is it really worth it? So you’ll have 10 leadership positions to pad your resume, but will you still be standing?

I guess it’s something I’ve always known, but haven’t really wanted to admit. But here’s the sad truth-I can’t do everything I want to and still have time to sleep. There’s more than enough truth to the saying ‘there just aren’t enough hours in the day.’ And maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing to realize. Recognizing that you can’t please or help everyone is a lesson that everyone needs to learn, and better earlier than later.

After several weeks of running the rat race all over again, I made a decision that I had been flirting with for quite some time. I can’t do it all, and there’s no reason I should. Taking care of yourself is more important than anything else because if you don’t, how are you going to give that 100% to your activities? Don’t worry, I know you’re already stressed with midterms as it is, so this won’t be a multiple choice answer; we’ll consider it a freebie. So here’s the lesson on today’s syllabus-just say no. Now close this paper and get some shuteye people!